CPPFD mentoring aims to mutually transform the lives of fellows and their host departments, fostering productive relationships among the fellows and their cohort and faculty colleagues, creating career opportunities, providing culturally responsive mentorship, and assisting departments in recruitment by providing resources on effective mentoring and affirmative action strategies to aid in diversifying their faculty. Fundamentally, the program provides solid mentorship and protected time for fellows to focus on developing their scholarship and securing tenure-track faculty posts.
CPPFD’s mentoring philosophy is both data-driven and grounded in the literature on best practices for mentoring underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the sciences. The CPPFD has adopted a “multi-tiered mentoring” approach based on the Peer-Onsite-Distance (POD) model for mentoring URM faculty (Llewellyn-Williams et al., 2006).
A recent report by the Coalition for Urban Serving Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities contends that cluster hiring is an effective strategy for diversifying faculty. According to the 2015 report, hiring multiple scholars into one or more departments based on shared background or interdisciplinary research interests is a way to advance faculty diversity or other aspects of the college or university mission. The report further concludes that, when done well, cluster hiring is a powerful strategy to foster institutional excellence and faculty diversity. The CPPFD and host departments undergo a careful selection of candidates to be part of postdoctoral cohorts relying upon interviews, campus visits and references. Once created, these cohorts foster collaboration by exposing scholars to interdisciplinary areas of knowledge and different academic departments. The scholar’s cohort, then, becomes a community of peer mentors who serve as sounding boards, resources, and role models. Additionally, peer mentoring is supported and enhanced through a number of activities organized by the program’s leadership. Each year the CPPFD holds a signature annual retreat event where fellows are led through team-building and bonding exercises to help develop a sense of community among the scholars. Though often at different stages of career development, the peer mentors have or are encountering similar experiences or concerns. The peer mentors can also provide additional accountability, motivation, and support for each other’s career goals.
Professional development is an important component of any successful postdoctoral training. CPPFD offers a variety of career services and resources to help fellows make the most of their postdoctoral experiences. The program has certified and licensed career counselors to provide individualized career counseling, to assist scholars in clarifying their career goals and identifying their strengths and weaknesses, implementing a plan for skills development, developing an effective self-marketing campaign including job search materials (e.g., CV, resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile), and preparing for academic interviews and job talks. The program’s leadership is also available to coach scholars toward effective mentoring opportunities, engaging in difficult yet productive conversations or problem solving.
Department chairs play a key role in achieving racial and ethnic diversity at the department level (Greene et al., 2011). In the absence of role models with similar racial or ethnic backgrounds in STEM disciplines, it is even more essential to gain the commitment and participation of the senior faculty members who serve as department chairs. At the beginning of each academic year, the CPPFD hosts a program for department chairs and faculty mentors where Vice Chancellor for Research Barbara Entwisle (see nomination and support letter) and CPPFD staff share data on the program, hiring rates and career outcomes, and address affirmative action strategies such as Targets of Opportunity to support efforts to diversify the faculty. The program also addresses some of the factors that impact the success of URM scholars, such as a previously unwelcoming departmental culture, implicit bias, discrimination, micro-aggressions, isolation, devaluation of scholarship or results due to lack of mentoring. The program stresses the critical role departments play in developing a sense of community and collegiality for URM postdocs and integrating them into the broader campus community. CPPFD works to foster a culture for URM scholars in departments and schools that appreciates and values diversity. An important goal is to increase the number of direct hires of CPPFD scholars at UNC through improvements in program support of postdocs, departments, schools, administrators, and mentors. Further, the program’s leadership makes it a priority to establish or strengthen relationships with departments, including department chairs, promoting increased awareness and support for schools/departments in addressing faculty diversity needs. To this end, communication with departments and chairs across campus has more than doubled over the past five years in terms of advertising, recruiting assistance, nomination guidance, targeted opportunity information, and discussions on diversifying the faculty.
The program’s leadership extends invitations to key senior faculty and administrators to be part of the CPPFD community, including the Executive Vice Provost who oversees tenure and promotion and the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research (see support letter) who spearheads research development initiatives. Institutional mentors provide fellows access to a broad range of information and resources to help them navigate their faculty careers and improve their social and cultural capital. For the institutional mentors, mentoring CPPFD fellows offers opportunities to hear concerns, so that they may change policy or procedures toward best practices. This component of the CPPFD is an exemplar because it provides access and insight to often hidden or hard-to-obtain information, especially for first generation scholars (Gibbs, McGready, Bennett & Griffin, 2014).
The CPPFD also offers networking and mentoring opportunities for current fellows to connect to CPPFD alumni on faculty at UNC-CH. Being part of a community is extremely important for underrepresented minority scholars, especially for them to progress in STEM fields (Dyer-Barr, 2014). Through regular socials and local alumni connection mixers, and the use of social media (i.e. LinkedIn and Facebook) the CPPFD fosters an active alumni-scholar community. Moreover, UNC-CH CPPFD alumni frequently volunteer their time as speakers and panelists for the annual retreat or monthly CPPFD professional development sessions. Similarly, CPPFD alumni who are not on campus are available also to provide mentoring, career guidance, and advice. The program’s leadership maintains a CPPFD Alumni Database with alumni career and contact information. Last November, UNC-CH hosted the 30 year anniversary of the CPPFD fellowship, bringing together alumni, current scholars, and campus community members for a two-day event. A campus-wide summit of faculty diversity was part of the event, and explored a variety of topics including faculty diversity recruitment and retention, mentoring and coaching for faculty success, building effective pipelines, and strategies for effectively navigating the academic landscape.